Doctor Who and the Doppelganger Dilemma

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Connor Johnston explores some of the many examples of double-casting in Doctor Who.

Throughout its vast history, Doctor Who has many times featured actors and actresses in various roles, and in most cases these repeat castings have included those who have gone on to play companions and Doctors alike. Only recently has the show spawned an audience that, quite surprisingly, has requested justification for actors and actresses portraying more than one role in the Whoniverse – and judging from the cloudy confirmation from Steven Moffat recently that Peter Capaldi’s “familiar faces” will be touched on in some shape or form during Series 8, it seems “justification” is just what the Whoniverse will receive – but is it at all necessary?

Today I’ll be taking a look at the Doctor Who doppelgängers over the years before finally deciding if the plot of production elements and casting is deserving of a mention during the show.

By Chance

Colin-Baker-Commander-Maxil-Arc-of-InfinityNot counting Capaldi (more on that later), there have been two previous instances in the history of Doctor Who where an actor that will go on to play the Doctor has featured in the universe well before casting decisions had been made placing them in the titular role. The first occurrence of this is the casting of Colin Baker as Commander Maxil in the Peter Davison episode “Arc of Infinity”. Baker played the zealous Time Lord that was part of Gallifrey’s Chancellery Guard – and then a year later, he would bring a similar confidence to his portrayal of the Sixth incarnation of the Doctor. As a result of Maxil firing at the Fifth Doctor during the episode, Baker has often joked that he gained the role of the Doctor by shooting the incumbent.

The second “by chance” occurrence that EVERYONE seems to either forget or ignore is that of David Tennant as Feldwebel Kurtz in the Seventh Doctor Big Finish Audio “Coldizt” – an adventure that featured the Seventh Doctor and Ace being caught intruding in Colditz Castle and pressured for the secrets of Time Travel by the Third Reich.

To Serve the Plot

The Enemy of the World & The Web of Fear Trailers & ClipsOther doppelgängers of the Doctor include both the Abbot of Amboise and World Dictator Salamander – played by William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton during their own respective eras. For both these characters their visual similarities to the Doctor were played upon during the plot of their respective episode. Hartnell’s double casting in “The Massacre” did receive a minor reference in the way of the Doctor’s companion Steven thinking at first that the Abbot was the Doctor in disguise, but Troughton’s double act received a far greater acknowledgement with the actor playing both the lead protagonist and lead antagonist of “The Enemy of the World” – and furthermore has the main plot revolve around the Doctor’s uncanny resemblance being used to impersonate and bring down the cruel dictator.

The Capaldi Conundrum

capaldi-facesWhat does the future hold for the exploration of the Doctor doppelgänger”? This is the question that secured itself on a fair amount of Whovian’s lips immediately after the casting announcement of Peter Capaldi as the 12th Doctor. Having appeared in the “Fires of Pompeii” as marble seller Lucius Caecilius Iucundus, and in “Torchwood: Children of Earth” as UK Home Office official John Frobisher – the questions began to arise: Were Caecilius and John actually the Doctor in disguise? Theories and speculation have run wild; a couple of my own personal favorites:

John Frobisher was actually Frobisher the shape shifting Penguin in disguise as the Doctor to achieve political power!”


The Omnipotent Argument: Time Lords, like humans, cannot imagine faces they haven’t seen at some point in their lives.

I can’t pretend to know what Series 8 will bring in the form of revelations, but now that we know that Peter Capaldi’s past appearances in the Whoniverse will still be addressed in some shape or form we know that every theory out there has every chance of becoming a reality. The question still remains however whether it should be or not, but more on that later.

Companions and Friends

doctor-who-reused-actors-companionsThe doppelgängers are not reserved just for future Doctors; many companions have also been involved during the production of the show in various roles. Jacqueline Hill, known to us better as First Doctor companion Barbara Wright, returned to the series during the Fourth Doctor’s era in the serial “Meglos” playing the part of Princess Lexa, the religious leader of the Deons, marking the first (but not last) time a companion would reappear in the show as another character. The legendary Nicholas Courtney who portrayed Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (first appearing during the Second Doctor Era) had previously appeared in the First Doctor serial “The Daleks Master Plan” as space security agent Bret Vyon killed by his own sister (First Doctor companion Sara) in Episode 4. Lalla Ward had also appeared as Princess Astra in “The Armageddon Factor” before appearing as Time Lady Romana, and Jean Marsh returned during the last season of the original run as Morgaine in “Battlefield” despite appearing as First Doctor Companion Sara Kingdom in the early seasons.

The Fires of PompeiiThere have also been an abundance of reused actors in the revived series – namely Karen Gillan who of course played Eleventh Doctor companion Amelia Pond and originally appeared as the Soothsayer in “The Fires of Pompeii”; Freema Agymen who played Tenth Doctor companion Martha Jones having previously played Adeola Oshodi in the first part of Series 2’s finale “Army of Ghosts” – a character later confirmed to be Martha’s “cousin;” and of course there’s Eve Myles who portrayed Gwyneth in Series 1’s “The Unquiet Dead” before rising to Whoniverse fame as Torchwood heroine Gwen Cooper – her own additional appearances explained by “spacial-genetic multiplicity”.

Other New Who doppelgängers include Chipo Chung who played Chantho in “Utopia” before returning exactly one series later as the fortune teller on Shan Shen, and Adjoa Andoh who first came to Doctor Who as the wonderfully droll Cat-Nurse Sister Jatt in 2006’s “New Earth” but later reappeared as Martha’s mum Francine in Series 3. Continuing the trend of actors making appearances under heavy make-up and then without we have the double-casting of Mark Gatiss who portrayed both Gantok in “The Wedding of River Song” and Professor Lazarus in “The Lazarus Experiment”. Of course we cannot fail to mention the brilliance of both Neve McIntosh and Dan Starkey who have also portrayed various Silurians and Sontarans throughout the show’s revival.

david-troughton-midnightSpecial mentions go to David Troughton – son of Second Doctor Patrick Troughton – who has appeared as Professor Hobbs in 2008’s “Midnight”, a guard in 1967’s “The Enemy of the World”, Private Moore in 1969’s “The War Games” and King Peladon in 1972’s “The Curse of Peladon”; as well as Bernard Cribbins, who we know and love as Donna’s grandfather Wilfred Mott having previously appeared in the Peter Cushing films as police officer Tom Campbell.


As you can see reusing actors in Doctor Who is far from a new concept, and to date the only writer to ever acknowledge the recycling of talent in Russell T Davies. So why is there such a demand for Peter Capaldi’s previous appearances to be explained? The answer of course lies not within the show, but within the show’s audience. With the inclusion of more advanced and “clever” plot twists we’ve become accustomed to there being a BIG-FINALE-FIREWORKS-BANG explanation to anything.

We’ve reached a point where even something as mundane as double-casting, something that has happened over and over again throughout the show’s incredibly long history, needs justification and explanations. Personally, I whole heartedly agree with Ste-Mo for choosing to not turn Capaldi’s previous appearances into a major plot device because at the end of the day, it really shouldn’t matter. To quote the man himself:

“Truthfully I don’t think it’s something you have to resolve because audiences do understand that the same actor can play different parts. So in a very low-key way we’ll address it. It won’t be a major deal because in the end people know the real reason is he’s played by the same actor.”

His plans hardly sound major, simply a way to please both the people demanding clarification by acknowledging it, and the people who really couldn’t give two Zarbis by not expanding it into a major arc. Quite frankly the best resolution I could hope for would be a simple monologue at the conclusion of an episode. Just enough to avoid “plot hole” allegations, but not enough to cause outrage. A monologue over a backing of clips featuring the Curator, Salamander, Maxil, the Abbot, Lucius Caecilius and Mr. Frobisher (the politician, not the Penguin) stating that;

“Sometimes, dear Clara, when we think about how enormous the universe is… how many people have lived, loved and died … how many faces have watched the same sun rise and set.. it’s only logical to assume that sometimes the universe likes to repeat itself, sometime the universe likes to revisiting a few faces. But just the old favorites.”